Obama and Hillary: What Did They Know, and When Did They Know It?
By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
The latest revelations about Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails while Secretary of State for the Obama administration have proven “politically problematic,” and invited discomfort by some of her fellow Democrats, possibly encouraging other ambitious Democratic hopefuls to contend for the presidential primary, according to some in the media.
By defining the problem as just “political,” these reporters can cast the issue as one dividing political parties to distract from the pressing issues of the day. This media frenzy works in the Obama administration’s favor. “…why did Hillary Clinton become the Obama administration’s bête noire this very week…? questions Lee Smith writing for Tablet Magazine. Perhaps because Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech before Congress reflected badly on the administration’s plan for an Iran deal. “This week’s tarring of Hillary Clinton is part of the White House’s political campaign to shut off debate about its hoped-for deal,” he asserts.
Smith’s suspicions are raised by the fact that Gawker’s John Cook emailed then-deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest, now White House press secretary, about the issue of Clinton’s private email account back in 2013—two years ago!
Yet on Saturday, President Barack Obama told CBS News’ Bill Plante in an interview that he learned about Mrs. Clinton’s private email system at “The same time everybody else learned it through news reports,” much like he claims to have learned about so many others of his scandals.
The most recent claim apparently didn’t stand up to common sense scrutiny. After all, one needed only to ask if the President and Secretary of State hadn’t exchanged emails for years. On Monday Josh Earnest told the press that President Obama and Secretary Clinton had exchanged emails, that the President had noticed the private address, and that “The point that the President was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s email address… But he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.
But few in the media seem to be asking about who actually saw Cook’s email back in 2013. Either the White House has known about the potential political fallout for years, or someone failed to pass the word up the chain of command.
Some members of the media prefer to view this latest scandal, like so many others, as some sort of right-wing conspiracy, with conservatives out to get Mrs. Clinton. Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast stubbornly refuses to define this growing debacle as a “scandal,” writing instead, “If she does become president, the right is going to be gunning for her from Day One, sniffing around for impeachable offenses from the second she takes the oath.” This implies, again, that opposition to Clinton’s lack of transparency is rooted in politics and ideology, as if real outrage were impossible or unjustified.
It’s not just the right this time, with people like Ruth Marcus, Mark Halperin, Mika Brzezinski, Maureen Dowd and Ron Fournier also taking Hillary to task. It’s enough to suggest a different conspiracy theory: that the left wants to dump Hillary for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), or someone they believe would be more electable, and more to their liking.
And while some in the media may have tacitly admitted that there is already blood in the proverbial water, and that Clinton may see greater challenges coming from other candidates, the narrative persists that the Select Committee on Benghazi was established simply to damage Mrs. Clinton. So the villain in this growing scandal, for Clinton acolytes, is not Clinton herself. It is, instead, the Select Committee on Benghazi, which apparently had known about her multiple private email accounts since at least last summer, according to National Review’s Andy McCarthy.
“The panel’s Republican House members are seizing on the revelations regarding Clinton’s private e-mail domain to expand their committee’s mandate, delay Clinton’s testimony and extend their investigation indefinitely,” write Josh Rogin and Eli Lake for Bloomberg. Similarly, Tomasky writes that “… it smells like the Times may have been rolled by the Republican staff of the Benghazi panel. And hey, great work by them and Chairman Trey Gowdy to use the nation’s leading liberal newspaper in this way.”
Mrs. Clinton and President Barack Obama were some of the main decision-makers during the 2012 Benghazi attacks, and have always dominated the heart of the Benghazi scandal—as inconvenient as this may be for some in the media.
The media are, once again, accusing the Republicans on the Select Committee of engaging in run-away politicking during an election season. “Republican Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy has insisted he wants his investigation to be impartial, not to be partisan nor about Hillary Clinton personally,” reports The Daily Beast. “But the pull of conservatives clamoring for answers regarding the scandal has focused the committee’s attention on the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic nomination.”
These politicized assessments ignore and minimize the valid security and transparency concerns raised by Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account during her entire term as Secretary. But the lack of transparency revealed by this latest Clinton scandal demonstrates that Mrs. Clinton has a problem with humility, and as “heir apparent” for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination may have internalized a feeling of invincibility—as if she is above public accountability and standards of conduct.
The additional debate about fairness to Mrs. Clinton in The New York Times reporting also ignores the larger, overlooked picture: the Obama administration’s culpability in enabling Mrs. Clinton’s behavior. In cases where Clinton’s email was requested by citizens’ groups and news reporters, “the State Department acknowledged receipt of the [Freedom of Information Act] requests and assigned case numbers but did not produce any of the requested documents,” The New York Times reported.
According to the Associated Press, the State Department “never suggested that it didn’t possess all her emails” when the A.P. requested records more than a year ago. That is a scandal in and of itself.
To put it mildly, the fact that there were no records to produce from Mrs. Clinton’s service until this recent date likely proved politically convenient for the administration, and provides further evidence of a government cover-up on Benghazi. Now-public records have already demonstrated Mrs. Clinton’s guilty knowledge about the attacks. Her pro-active attempts at concealing her communications through the use of a private email server have already been thwarted by the Freedom of Information Act.
The newly released Judicial Watch emails documenting correspondence sent to Cheryl Mills (then-Chief of Staff to Sec. Clinton), Jacob Sullivan (then-Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy), and Joseph McManus (then-Hillary Clinton’s Executive Assistant) provided ample evidence that Mrs. Clinton had guilty knowledge of the nature of the terrorist attack in Benghazi as early as a half an hour after the attack.
“Also littered throughout the State Department emails, obtained by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, are references to a so-called Benghazi Group,” reports Catherine Herridge for Fox News. “A diplomatic source told Fox News that was code inside the department for the so-called Cheryl Mills task force, whose job was damage control.”
And as I have previously reported, the President was told this was an attack by terrorists—not the result of a spontaneous demonstration that got out of control—by his military advisors on September 11, 2012, shortly after the attacks began.
Mrs. Clinton has now requested her emails’ public release, and may hold a press conference in the next several days, according to Politico. Perhaps it was the ridicule from Saturday Night Live that convinced her to speak up, or the sting from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Meet the Press calling on Hillary to come clean if she expects to be the party’s standard bearer. But the process of releasing her emails could take months, according to Reuters, which reports that “The email controversy could intensify long-standing Republican criticism of Clinton’s transparency and ethics.”
Clinton’s request to make her emails public should be treated with urgency, and may yet yield additional information regarding the Benghazi attacks and other administration policies during her time as Secretary. But in a real sense it may not matter now whether the State Department actually releases this set of emails, as they were first vetted by Clinton’s advisers. One must ask: What did these advisers choose to omit?
The media shouldn’t be fooled by these “latest [Clinton] efforts to demonstrate transparency” if they are designed to conceal politically damaging material from the public while appearing to be open and fair. Neither should they accept platitudes from Mrs. Clinton if and when she does hold her press conference. But in an even greater sense, the media spotlight shouldn’t be on Mrs. Clinton—it should be on President Obama. What did he know, and when did he know it?